What role the Catrina plays in the Day of the Dead celebration

In addition to traditional rituals like making sacrifices and decorating graves with marigolds, La Catrina serves as a central figure in Day of the Dead celebrations. See its definition and background here.

What role the Catrina plays in the Day of the Dead celebration
José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican cartoonist, created the Catrina in 1912. Photo: SIAP

One of Mexico's most famous festivals, the Day of the Dead honors those who have passed away and is held on November 1 and 2. The celebration is combined with Catholic holidays and dates back to pre-Hispanic times.

An altar of the dead is built, serving as a sort of "portal" through which the deceased can visit their loved ones in their homes, and the Day of the Dead is commemorated with offerings and cempasúchil flowers.

A representative image of this unique date, which is rich in tradition and color, is the catrina. This symbol, which brings color to one of the nation's most significant traditions, is adorning the streets of Mexico. However, what exactly is a catrina and how does it differ from a skull? Here is the answer.

What is La Catrina and what does it mean?

José Guadalupe Posada, a Mexican cartoonist, created the Catrina in 1912. It is a caricature of a smiling skull wearing a Victorian costume, a brimmed hat with flowers, and a mocking expression.

During the governments of Benito Juárez, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, and Porfirio Díaz, images of skeletons and skulls were a common form of denunciation and social criticism in the publications of the time used by several caricaturists. Then, José Guadalupe Posada created the character of "La Calavera Garbancera" as a form of criticism.

"Garbancera" is the word used at that time to refer to people who sold garbanzo, nouveau riche people who, having indigenous blood, pretended to be Europeans and denied their race, heritage and culture. The word "catrín" was used to describe a man dressed elegantly.

Decades later, muralist Diego Rivera renamed the "Calavera Garbancera" as "La Catrina". Rivera was the one who gave her her trademark costume, with her feather stole, by showing her in his mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, where the skull appears with her creator, José Guadalupe Posada, and a child version of Rivera and Frida Kahlo.

How is La Catrina different from a skull?

The Catrina is defined by the image of the cempasúchil flower in the eyes, the cross on the forehead, and symbolism on the chin, and everything you paint on the catrina has to do with Mexican art.